Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Yu Darvish, CJ Wilson, Mark Buehrle, Jose Reyes, Grady Sizemore, Heath Bell, Ryan Madson, and Jonathon Papelbon. By now, most of the sports world is aware of what these players have in common. They will all be the major free agents on the baseball’s market, in the coming months. These players have been the ones getting the most media coverage, but there is one free agent, for a reason unbeknownst to me that is flying underneath most expert’s radar, who should be valued higher than many of these free agents. The player I am referring to is starting pitcher Edwin Jackson. Jackson, has played for 6 MLB teams, yet is only 28 years old, he has thrown one of the ugliest no hitters of all time, I could nearly make an entire 25-man roster with the players he has been traded for, and he won a world series just a short week ago with the St. Louis Cardinals. Jackson’s movement is joked about and discussed a lot on the blogosphere, (the Jackson for Daniel Hudson deal, has been discussed in great detail on this blog), but his value as a free agent seems to be ignored.
CJ Wilson is receiving most of the free agent starting pitching attention, which will most likely lead to him being overpaid for, possibly a deal over 5 year/$100 million range. Many believe the market drops off from there, and these “experts” have Mark Buehrle and Hiroki Kuroda ranked next, but when the numbers are analyzed is Jackson the most viable option? Jackson is the youngest of the four pitchers, 28 (Wilson will be 31, Buehrle will be 33, and Kuroda will be 37). Over the last three seasons, Jackson has averaged a WAR of 3.7, Wilson has an average WAR of 4.2, Buehrle sits at 3.5, and Kuroda’s average is 2.9. Based on WAR, Jackson is the second best free agent option for a starting pitcher, to take it a step further I’ll analyze the four pitchers xFIP over this same span of time. Jackson’s xFIP ranks third (3.92) behind Kuroda (3.54) and Wilson (3.56), but ahead of Buehrle (4.28). Jackson’s numbers are solid and consistent, he has yet to miss a start in five seasons as a full-time major league starter. While Wilson only has two seasons as a starter under his belt, while they were spectacular (his 5.9 WAR last season ranked 7th amongst starters) he still has three years less experience than Jackson.
If over the next 5 seasons, Jackson does not progress or regress and continues to average a WAR of 3.7 (I would postulate that a 28 year old former super prospect would improve as he crosses the 30 mark), what would he be worth to the team who signs him? Based on Fangraphs’ value measure ($4.5 million per WAR), with a team being smart and paying him based on this number, and not taking into account that the market will be inflated in five seasons to a point that one win will be worth more than $4.5 million, they should give Jackson a 5 year/$82.5 million contract. That type of deal, is almost “Wilson money” and I would bet many experts would say there is no way an “inconsistent” starter like Jackson is worth it. Jered Weaver and Justin Verlander, recently, have signed similar deals (they would have made much more on the open market). Jackson is not as valuable as Weaver or Verlander, but he is worth almost the money they're paid. Jackson will most likely sign a 3 to 4 year deal in the range of $8 to 11 million per season, which would mean he would be highly underpaid. And any team in need of an above average 3rd or 4th starter would not regret getting a deal on Jackson.
If I was running a baseball team and had around $12-15 million to work with in free agency this offseason, Edwin Jackson would be the guy, who I would invest in. Jackson does have Scott Boras as his agent, and its highly possible Boras will inflate Jackson’s ability and worth to something higher than I just laid out, thus he will be “overpaid” for, but I feel as though that is unlikely. A 28 year-old, who has pitched in both leagues, pitched in the postseason/World Series, and still has potential to get better, will be worth every penny, that a team decides to spend on him this winter. Sign Edwin Jackson.